How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

Clint Smith. Little, Brown, $29 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-49293-5
Poet and Atlantic staff writer Smith debuts with a moving and perceptive survey of landmarks that reckon, or fail to reckon, with the legacy of slavery in America. Visiting Monticello plantation, Smith describes how Thomas Jefferson’s self-perception as a “benevolent slave owner” often conflicted with his actions. On a tour of Angola prison, Smith discusses how nonunanimous jury verdicts fueled the “convict leasing system” that replaced slave labor in post-Reconstruction Louisiana, and notes that when the state switched from the electric chair to lethal injection in 1991, Angola inmates refused to build the prison death bed. At the Blandford Cemetery for Confederate soldiers in Petersburg, Va., Smith questions on-site historians about the ethical implications of preserving a place of honor for the defenders of slavery. He also checks in at the annual Juneteenth festival in Galveston, Tex., and takes an illuminating walking tour of underground railroad sites in New York City. Suffused with lyrical descriptions and incisive historical details, including Robert E. Lee’s ruthlessness as a slave owner and early resistance by Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois to the Confederate general’s “deification,” this is an essential consideration of how America’s past informs its present. Agent: Alia Habib, the Gernert Co. (June)
Reviewed on : 03/02/2021
Release date: 06/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-2340-5
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-5491-6639-6
Hardcover - 496 pages - 978-0-316-27874-4
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-316-49292-8
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